… That the Courts in Singapore do not question the views of the Govt (or more correctly, the Parliament, though in the last 50 years, they are more or less the same because the PAP dominates both institutions), then the S377A ruling is it.
According to the High Court, whether a social norm that has “yet to gain currency” should be discarded or retained is decided by Parliament — which in 2007 had voted to retain S377A.
“To my mind, defining moral issues need time to evolve and are best left to the legislature to resolve,” said Justice Loh, noting that Singapore society is “in the midst of change”.
He added: “It is not that the courts do not have any role to play in defining moral issues when such issues are at stake. However, the court’s power to intervene can only be exercised within established principles.”
Of course, this ruling does not mean the Courts are not independent. Indeed, they have ruled many times against the Govt in both criminal and civil trials.
However, it does mean that the Courts do not take their own views into account when making a judgement. Indeed, they often not only look at the wording of the law, but also refer to the Parliamentary debates that preceded the passing of the law, to discern Parliament’s intent.
Hence, in the recent case of Hougang by-election, the High Court did not just look at the 3-month issue, but also referred to the Parliamentary debates surrounding the passage of the Constitutional Amendment that gave the PM discretion on when and if to hold a by-election. Between the two, it seems the Court gave greater weight to uphold the spirit of the law and Parliament’s intention when it was passed at the time.
So today’s decision 377A is again the same thing. The Courts will not come up with its own interpretation of the law but would rather Parliament take the lead and make clear what it intends. Until Parliament clearly intends to decriminalise homosexuality, it seems this judiciary will not allow its own views to usurp that of Parliament.
The message to gays– and to anyone else who wants to seek the Court’s help in overturning ‘unjust’ laws– is clear. Fight for it in Parliament. Get yourself elected, get the law amended or remove the statute. This is not America, the judges don’t take sides as far as moral issues are concerned.